is the main parkway through the heart of Glacier National Park
. It was completed in 1932, and it is the only road that crosses the park, going over the Continental Divide
at Logan Pass
. A fleet of 1930s red tour buses "jammers", rebuilt in 2001 to run on propane
or gas, offer tours on the road. The road, a National Historic Landmark
and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark
, spans 53 miles (85 km) across the width of the park.
The road is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring. Up to 80 feet (25 m) of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet (150 m) of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed. The road is generally open from early June to mid October.
The two lane Going-to-the-Sun Road is quite narrow and winding, especially west of Logan Pass. Consequently, vehicle lengths over the highest portions of the roadway are limited to 21 feet and that means no recreational vehicles or trailers in excess of this length restriction are permitted beyond two larger parking areas, each located at lower points dozens of miles below Logan Pass, on both the west and east sides of the parkway.
Prior to the construction of the road, it would take the earliest visitors 3-4 days to see the park.
The road is named for Going to the Sun Mountain
, which dominates the eastbound view beyond Logan Pass. One possibly apocryphal story tells of the deity Sour Spirit, who returned to the sun after teaching hunting to the Blackfeet
, leaving his image on the mountain. .
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is notable as one of the first National Park Service projects specifically intended to accommodate the automobile-borne tourist. The road was first conceived by superintendent George Goodwin in 1917, who became the chief engineer of the Park Service the following year . As chief engineer, the new road became Goodwin's primary project, and construction began in 1921. As the project proceeded, Goodwin lost influence with National Park Service director Stephen Mather
, who favored landscape architect Thomas Chalmers Vint
's alternative routing of the upper portion of the road along the Garden Wall
escarpment. Vint's alignment reduced both switchbacks and the road's visual impact, at increased cost . With Goodwin's resignation, Vint's proposal became the preferred alignment. The entire project was finally opened from end to end in 1933, at a cost of $2.5 million .
This road is shown in the opening credits of the film, The Shining
, as Jack Torrance's Volkswagen glides past St. Mary Lake and up the road, underneath a small tunnel and onward, presumably going to the Overlook Hotel for his job interview for caretaker.
This road is also seen briefly in the movie, Forrest Gump. As Forrest reminisces with Jenny, he remembers running across the U.S. and remarks, "Like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny. It looks like there were two skies, one on top of the other." The shots in the background are Going-to-the-Sun Road and St. Mary Lake.
Points of interest along the road include:
Going to the Sun Road is currently undergoing a restoration project by the National Park Service
(NPS) and Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) to repair the damages done by the many avalanches and rock slides the mountain road has endured over the years. The repairs (which actually started in the 1980s) include fixing retaining walls, replacing the original pavement with reinforced concrete, and work on tunnels and arches.